Hulu's new Framing Britney Spears documentary details the singer’s struggle with the media and her court-sanctioned conservatorship through archival footage and interviews with a family friend, members of the press, and multiple lawyers. Notably absent from the doc was the singer herself. But during a recent interview with Entertainment Tonight, director Samantha Stark detailed the difficult and ultimately fruitless process of trying to contact the singer.
"Since Britney has such a tight circle around her, in part because of the conservatorship … journalists haven’t really been able to interview her freely," Stark said in the interview. "We as The New York Times haven’t interviewed her because we want to be able to do it freely with no one trying to adjust what she says or anything. It just feels like you can’t ask Britney."
Stark explained her team tried to reach Spears via a publicist, friends (and friends of friends), and even social media DMs to no avail. To make matters even more complicated, there were also legal challenges associated with reaching out. "So many people around Britney have NDAs … people were scared." Speaking about Spears' father and conservator, Jamie Spears, Stark added, "Jamie’s team has sued some fans before, and there’s a legal threat that way." Though she acknowledged that they "weren't worried" about pursuing the story as The New York Times, the team received "some calls from some lawyers" nonetheless.
Spears' appearance could've bolstered the doc, but Hulu and FX's collaboration with The NYT adds value by recontextualizing her history in the public eye. "There’s these photographs, these still frames, that people always think of when they think of Britney Spears," Stark began. Referencing infamous photos of Spears, like the ones of her hitting a paparazzo's car with an umbrella or her shaving her head, Stark added, "Those single frames have lasted for so long, and I really wanted to know what was outside the frame because there’s been so much unfair coverage of Britney and so many assumptions about her."
That thought inspired the documentary's title and key message. In making Framing Britney, the director asked herself, "What is outside of this frame? And how much has this one frame affected her life?" Because The NYT looked at Spears' life and career holistically, they were able to dissect how the media blamed her for the end of her relationship with Justin Timberlake. Remember: In archival interview footage, Diane Sawyer asked a teary-eyed Spears, "What did you do?"
Stark also reflected on her reaction to old footage of the singer when she seemed independent and in charge, a heartbreaking departure from Spears' current conservatorship troubles.
"I was struck by how in control she was. How much power she seemed to have over what she was doing, what she was saying," Stark said, referencing interviews production conducted with people who knew Spears early in her career. She continued, "Everybody ... individually, separately, all said the biggest misconception of Britney was that she was a puppet that wasn’t in control of what she was doing. Even as a teenager, she knew exactly what her music was gonna sound like, what her outfits were gonna be, how she wanted to perform ... it's surprising, that contradiction, to watch."